The next few weeks should be themed, Makeover the Processed Food from Kristin’s Childhood.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to share homemade jello cups, chicken nuggets, and homemade honey mustard (for those nuggets). There will also be a healthy mix of avocado toast and roasted veggies in there.
Making the swap from processed food, that’s full of questionable ingredients and has the lifespan of a Twinkie (which is seriously disturbing that anything lasting generations can be given a food label), to real food is not about just making processed food alternatives at home (although that’s a good place to start).
The goal is to return to (real) food that’s from the ground (or an animal that was raised on healthy, grassy ground), food that’s prepared lovingly by human hands (chopped, diced, stirred, and cooked), and food that’s prepared specifically to nourish the body. That, my friend, is what real food is all about. Plain and simple.
And yet, there is this thing we’ve all grown up around (well, at least many of us): processed food. And this brings us to a dilemma. Do we completely cut off all of our food memories from childhood (yes, the processed ones like mac and cheese and jello), or do we occasionally find a homemade solution?
It’s a decision that everyone turning away from processed food must answer for themselves.
I truly believe there is a time and place for making processed food alternatives from scratch in our kitchens, while at the same time introducing new vegetables, new cuts of meat (like a whole chicken), and other nourishing food into our real food lifestyle.
There is such a thing as finding balance and enjoyment in this lifestyle, and when we can master these two, this lifestyle essentially becomes effortless. Okay, well, there will always be meal planning, shopping, and preparing food. You know what I mean, the mindset of eating real food becomes effortless, and incredibly enjoyable.
There are times when a food memory from my childhood is triggered (whether processed or home-cooked), and that leads me on a journey to discovering how to make something similar in my own kitchen with real ingredients.
It’s absolutely fascinating to me that it’s so easy to make many of the “foods” I grew up consuming from a box or bag at home with simple, fresh ingredients. At the same time, it saddens me that we’ve ventured so far from our home kitchens and local farms over the last fifty years. As a society, so many people believe they we must rely on a company and products sold in big conventional stores to “get it right.” Hey, I was there eight years ago, I totally understand. The truth is, food that’s made at home is not only nutritionally superior (because it’s actually real), it also tastes better.
We’ve come so far from the simpler food days of great-great grandma. The good news is that we’re redeeming those nutrition-less processed days, and I believe great-great grandma would be so proud of us!
Today’s recipe is a redo from my childhood: jello cups.
I remember my mom packing the bright red jello cups in my lunchbox nearly every week. The cups, full of a jiggly substance, were always the envy of every kid at the lunch table, as they nibbled on their pb&j sandwiches.
Now, as a mom to a kindergartener, I know Piper oftentimes watches kids enjoy the same “treat” I once enjoyed in my early ’90s lunchbox. In fact, after just the third week of school, Piper came home asking if I would pack him “jello.” Yep, it only took three short weeks for jello to make it to school. What was I to do as a real food mom who doesn’t want to send her son with red dye?
The answer: Figure out how to make homemade jello!
Since Piper’s request was specifically for red jello, I knew strawberries were the best option. So, together, we searched the freezer for our leftover seasonal stash of Florida strawberries (we only have one season here in Florida: strawberry season!). I added the berries to the blender, along with a bit of water, and honey. Then, to help “activate” the gelatin (the key ingredient to anything jiggly), we heated the mixture just until it was warm. The gelatin dissolved quickly in the strawberry mixture, and then Piper helped me carefully pour the liquid jello into smaller plastic tupperware containers. After a couple of hours in the fridge, the liquid mixture turned into jiggly jello. Just like I remember as a kid, but without the questionable ingredients.
The real test came down to the first bite. We both took a bite, and then smiled at each other as the jello slipped down our throats. Piper, who doesn’t know what “real” jello tastes like, loved every bite of our creation, and I loved the realness of our homemade jello. Unlike the store-bought stuff, homemade strawberry jello is slightly sweet and fully fruity, and has a texture that’s thick and light at the same time.
Whether you’re making new food memories or redeeming old ones, I think you’ll love this simple real food treat!
Homemade Strawberry Jello Cups
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 2 cups semi-defrosted strawberries
- 4 TB honey more or less to taste
- 2 TB grass-fed gelatin
- 1 TB chopped strawberries per jello cup, optional
- Place the water, lemon juice, semi-defrosted strawberries, and honey in a blender jar. Blend the ingredients until they are completely smooth. Pour the mixture into a saucepan.
- Over medium heat, warm the strawberry mixture until it's hot to touch. It doesn't need to boil, but it should be hot! Add the gelatin, and whisk to dissolve. If there are any clumps of gelatin that remain in the strawberry mixture, remove them and add a pinch of gelatin to compensate.
- Pour the hot strawberry mixture into individual cups (I use glass Weck jars at home and plastic containers for school). If you'd like chunky jello cups, add 1 tablespoon of chopped berries (fresh or frozen) to the bottom of each cup.
- Refrigerate the jello cups for at least two hours, or several days, until they are firm.
Fresh strawberries may work. I prefer to eat our fresh berries for breakfast or afternoon snacks, so I opt for frozen berries. Make sure the strawberries are semi-defrosted before pulsing them in the blender.
It’s best to use grass-fed gelatin (well, gelatin from grass-fed cows). The most popular brand which claims to be from grass-fed cows is Great Lakes. I personally don’t care for the stronger taste of Great Lakes, so I use NOW brand gelatin. Collagen hydrolysate will not work in this recipe. You’ll need gelatin to create the jiggly texture of jello. Feel free to adjust the gelatin amount according to the consistency you desire, increasing the gelatin by a couple of tablespoons for firmer jello.
I send this jello occasionally in Piper’s lunchbox as a special treat. I’ve found the jello remains firm if I pack it with an ice pack. For time reference, Piper has about a 2 1/2 hour difference between when I drop him off and when he eats lunch.